ALBANY, N.Y.: Pandemonium erupted on the floor, the lights went out and the live television feed went black as the coup unfolded.
The Republicans seized control of the New York Senate this week in a takeover that played out like comic opera, with the Democrats locking the chamber's 15-foot brass gates and hiding the keys, and the GOP rebels vowing to convene in a park outside the state Capitol if necessary.
With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, the rebellion could thwart the Democrats' attempts to legalize gay marriage and expand tenants' rights.
But more than that, the hard feelings could paralyze the Capitol while the state is dealing with a fiscal crisis, damage Democratic Gov. David Paterson, and reinforce New York's reputation for legislative gridlock.
Complaining of the Democrats' attempts to raise taxes and increase spending, the 30 Republicans in the 62-member Senate convinced two troubled Democrats to join their caucus. After the overthrow, one of the turncoats was installed as the new Senate president.
The ousted Democrats who had been in power for only six months, after 40 years in the minority swore the maneuver was illegal.
The plot was orchestrated by billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, owner of hockey's Buffalo Sabres. Golisano helped bankroll the Democrats' victory in the Senate last fall, but grew angry earlier this spring over Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's support of a budget that would increase spending and raise taxes on the wealthy.
In April, Golisano met with Smith to talk things over. According to Golisano, Smith fiddled with his Blackberry and didn't seem to be paying attention. Golisano soon began meeting secretly with Republicans to plot Smith's overthrow.
To pull off the coup, the Republicans needed two Democrats. They found them in two lawmakers who have become emblematic of Albany's problems:
• Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx, the newly installed Senate president, who owes tens of thousands of dollars in fines for election law violations and is under investigation over the health-care clinics he operates.
• Sen. Hiram Monserrate of Queens, who has been charged with slashing his girlfriend's face with a broken glass and could lose his seat if convicted.
With the plan in place, GOP Sen. Thomas Libous introduced without fanfare a nondescript bill that, once read, toppled the Democratic leadership.
Shocked Democrats stalled, then walked out, turning off the lights.